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Digitisation of Festival Books

Under its Resource Enhancement scheme, the AHRB has awarded the Centre a grant of £247,020 over three years, to make possible the digitisation of festival books in the collections of the British Library. Closely associated with the Europa Triumphans project, the grant provides for the appointment of two research fellows to undertake the initial phase of the work. This will involve research mainly in the British Library on the selection and cataloguing of appropriate volumes, and on bibliographical description.

Festivals of many kinds, land-based and water-borne, are well-recognised as significant features of the political, artistic and social life of the European ‘long Renaissance’, from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries. The festivals marked high-profile events, including dynastic marriages, the birth and christening of heirs, the formal entry of rulers to their capital cities, the reception of politically well-disposed rivals, and the funeral processions of dukes, kings and emperors. They took place across the continent, notably in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Britain, Bohemia, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Poland-Lithuania.

This rich resource for the history of modern Europe, of interest to social, political and cultural historians, and to historians of the book, remains broadly inaccessible, except through painstaking work in the largest research libraries. The resource enhancement programme aims to make between two and three hundred of these books available on the internet or DVD, in parallel with a digitisation scheme currently in hand under the auspices of the Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel.

The first phase of the enhancement programme will entail work, for one year, by two research fellows in the collections of the British Library. Their duties will be to select, with the guidance of an advisory group, the appropriate number of festival books, basing the selection on the books’ political and cultural significance, on their representative geographical and chronological distribution, on conservation considerations and on complementarity with the Wolfenbüttel archive (avoiding duplication and offering coherent expansion). They will also establish an appropriate classification and cataloguing system, draw up a detailed description of the selected books, and determine and apply, with the guidance of the advisory group, and in consultation with colleagues from Wolfenbüttel, an appropriate series of search terms. In the second phase of the project digitisation of the selected books will be undertaken by the British Library’s digitisation section.